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Thursday, September 21, 2017

The triple-circle economy

Posted by steve on April 18, 2013

Combining the full circle of biological, technical and financial products we can create the sustainable society

This diagram comes from the Swedish Sustainable Economy Foundation 

WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Visit to the eco-centre, Ipema, Brazil

Posted by steve on April 6, 2013


We visited IPEMA – Institute of Permaculture and Eco-village of the Atlantic Rainforest. The center is an example of the growing energy and insight that is manifesting itself as practical projects and organisations working towards sustainability in Brazil. Combining permaculture and eco-village thinking, the center has made huge headway in creating housing of 100% natural materials powered by renewable energy, and at the same time inspired hundreds of course participants.
We were guided around by Marcelo, who started 12 years ago after visiting the permaculture institute in Australia. He bought this parcel of land with about half a dozen friends and started building and teaching permaculture on the site. The land is 50 hectares, but lies within the state park. Regulations require they can only use 10 hectares of the 50 to build on and cultivate.
The site houses both the offices and teaching rooms of the Institute and the residential village.

One of the houses in progress

One of the houses in progress, Marcelo left

A lot of the buildings are works in progress, improved each time a natural building course is held on the property. The main activities are courses in natural building and permaculture. They have about 30 participants at any one time and run one or two courses a month.

The extreme climate (100% humidity and more rain than the Amazon) explains much of the design and construction of the buildings. Most of the houses have steep roofs to handle the rainfall.

A sheet of the material made from recycled toothpaste tubes

A sheet of the material made from recycled toothpaste tubes

Roofs are covered in corrugated sheeting made from recycled toothpaste tubes, a material which is used quite extensively as sheets in in other parts of the buildings.
Says Marecello “We always get the roof up first. Then we can build out of the rain”
“We don’t use adobe as the climate, extremely humid as it is, means it just crumbles.”

2013-03-20 14.36.28

This machine presses rammed earth bricks into shape.  These bricks are easy to build with and withstand the humid climate better than Adobe.


Bricks from rammed earth.

Bricks from rammed earth.

A lot of food is available just by picking what is growing naturally: bananas, pineapple, cacao, jucara, and several types of nuts. Just now the food production has not been fully developed. They are trying two approaches, one of composting and creating food beds, the other is food forestry.
The food forest area close to the communal meeting room has been going several years. The trees provide shade that prevents the grass from growing (which otherwise in this country smothers everything). They have been cutting the forest back frequently because of the speed of growth. This area is amazingly productive: masses of sunshine, heat and water create the ideal growing conditions, explaining some of the appeal of the Atlantic Rainforest area as a place to establish an eco-village. (The sub-tropical Atlantic rainforest is not to be confused with the tropical rainforest of the Amazon).

Rain water is led from the gutter to a nearby cistern.

Rain water is led from the gutter to a nearby cistern.

The main source of water is the two rivers above the property, but they are avid collectors of rainwater, after running off the gutter the water passes a simple net filter and goes into the holding cistern. The river water is purified in a simple filter before drinking.

This pit receives the grey waste water from the communal kitchen

This pit receives the grey waste water from the communal kitchen

Waste water.
The main source of waste water is from the communal kitchen. The grey water is led over a bed of stones that acts as a biological filter. From there, the water goes into a small pond before being led from the property back into the river.


water from the stream above the settlement is led in pipes to this simple turbine.

Water from the stream above the settlement is led in pipes to this simple turbine.

A pipe runs from a waterfall above the property in 3cm pipes down to a generator housed in a plastic drum. The generator is connected to several batteries via a converter. The batteries supply 12 volt dc to the property.
Says Marcello ”people wanted us to bring mains electricity to the site and I resisted, even being called extremist at one point.”
But Marcello points out that people are happy with the arrangement and the whole system works well, they have more electricity than they need.

Energy for cooking
The communal kitchen is well-equipped with running water, a rational wood-fired stove and a gas stove.
The site is served by simple dry toilets, which collect the waste in buckets and the buckets are emptied at regular intervals.
“We don’t use urine separation as in this climate the urine collecting basin starts to smell badly after only a short time,” says Marcello.

General impressions

I loved the creativity of the buildings, the natural feel of the rounded cob walls and the effects of putting glass bottles in the walls.

Wonderful patterns in the cob walls  made by inserting bottles

Wonderful patterns in the cob walls made by inserting bottles

Having a totally productive site has its drawbacks of course, trees grow so fast the village is easily encroached by the forest which can feel overpowering. And then there are the snakes…
But generally you have to admire Marcelo, who has two small children living on the site, in pressing on with developing the village and centre and inspiring many others with courses and by just getting on with it.

Visit the website at

Transition to biomass society with a complementary currency

Posted by steve on April 4, 2013

Cover_biomass_currency This white paper discusses the challenge of replacing fossil-fueled supply chains with less energy-intense renewable solutions whilst rapidly reducing the carbon in the atmosphere. It suggests that a complimentary currency, backed by carbon fees and pledges from landowners to sequester carbon using soil and biochar, could be the answer.

Read the paper here. A complementary currency R4

Brazilian town shows way to sustainable culture with arts and crafts

Posted by steve on March 19, 2013

Tradentes’ well-preserved colonial buildings and streets

They started to interact with the local community to design and manufacture decorative artworks almost entirely from recyclable materials such as used wood, wood reclaimed from old houses, cans, paper, etc. Toti trained a group of craftsmen, getting them to produce pieces of art according to his designs as they learned each technique. No design was exact; each craftsman gave to the pieces a little of their own identity. Locals who only had agriculture and cattle breeding as a living saw their lives change through art.

Then they started a program to teach youngsters arts and craftsmanship to ensure new craftsmen come in to revitalize their production. The whole area is bubbling over with arts and crafts as people learn from and inspire each other, try new things and develop new techniques. And the tourist trade they attract from the Sao Paolo area means they can make a living at it. Today, some 150 craftsmen work directly or indirectly in this project attracting thousands of tourists to the town and its surrounding villages each year.

Just one of the many shops along the way

All along the road you meet shop after shop selling their own variants of the local handiwork, and throughout the area, hotels, shops and boarding houses as well as private houses are adorned with this local, colourful art.

These carvings greeted me in my room at the B&B

Toti is a visionary but not without a sense of humour and play. Throughout the prolific production you see a love of life and nature, a reverence for living things, a ”don’t take yourself too seriously” playfulness and flourishes of colour.


And he is a visionary in the sustainability sense too. Oficina de Agosto won the prize Prêmio Planeta Casa 2004, the award from Editora Abril and Casa Claudia for the companies that best promote the conservation of nature and sustainable development.

Just visiting the area, the first temptation is to buy a lot of artworks for your wall at home, and the second temptation is to get going to create some for yourself. The whole area exudes contagious creativity and entrepreneurship. But it goes deeper. My visit to the area got me reflecting on eco-village communities and communities in general. Involving the community in producing art to adorn the homes of inhabitants and tourists is not just an economic exercise. It has a deeper, cultural meaning. Vibrant, ingenious, playful, insightful art is a cultural expression. It states “here in this place we have time to appreciate life, our situation allows us time to create beauty. There is no lack of the basics here”.
The art, in reflecting what is appreciated and enjoyed even acts to express aspiration. It says “we aspire to happiness, to abundance, to happy, dancing, harmonious people”.
In fact, Toti has given us a clue to how we can be part of creating a healthy, healing culture: to set up workshops and involve the community in producing art. Invite people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to learn handicraft techniques and to try their creativity.
The objects and themes you choose can reflect your community’s appreciation of what you have, and your aspiration to what you see would be healthy and healing.
Toti gives us another clue to developing a sustainable, resilient culture: once you start producing things by hand, be it crafts or houses, people learn from each other, and the young people learn too. Just as the techniques of arts and crafts spread to a whole region, so too could the techniques of natural building and organic food production spread.
Start saving materials, gather your tools and go get some paint and visit Totis website to get into a playful, creative mood. The transition to a creative, sustainable and resilient world awaits you.

Is Swedish Government in control over the country’s energy future?

Posted by steve on February 24, 2013

From figures released recently by the International Energy Agency it looks as if the Swedish government has abandoned any control over the future supply of energy to the country. I hope I am wrong, but I find no comfort in the combination of signals in the media, from experts and from the government information.
At first the figures seem to reveal that Sweden is on the right path: a gradual reduction in fossil fuel use or at least reaching a plateau. It is not until you dig deeper into fuel use that the pattern emerges.
The period 2013 to 2030 is strategically important as the stated government strategy is that Sweden will break fossil fuel dependency by 2030 and be fossil-fuel free by 2050. With a 17-year life time of fossil-fuel powered vehicles, you would expect that next year vehicles that do not run on fossil fuels would be available, or alternative fuels for the existing vehicle fleet would be planned.
That does not seem to be the case. Neither alternative- fuelled vehicles nor large production of renewable fuel seems to be planned. Vehicles sold today will be worthless if there is neither fossil nor renewable fuel to power them. This means that Sweden is on course for a serious dip in its economy if the vital transport sector cannot grow. Sweden’s economy is dependent on cheap energy because the country, sparsely populated and the fourth largest in Europe, has modernised its logistics chains to rely on long-distance transport of goods and long-distance commuting.
In this diagram below from IAEA, the projection for oil remains constant from 2013 to 2030. So it would seem that Sweden is dampening its appetite for fossil fuel and weaning itself off dependency on it.

However, the demand for fossil fuels, and the dependency on fossil fuels is actually growing. This graph here from the blogger Cornucopia shows how fuel use (shaded area)  and GDP (solid line) have  grown hand in hand since. It is the reduction in use of oil in industry that accounts for the overall reduction..

So, despite touting Sweden as a fossil-fuel independent county by 2030 the government is leading the nation into continued oil dependency. There is another reason why this can end badly: it is unclear where Swedens oil will come from up to 2030. Sweden has three major suppliers of oil: Denmark, Norway and Russia. As shown in the graph below, Denmark will cease to export oil 2018-2019. Norway’s exports will cease toward the end of the period. Several experts doubt if Russia will be able to increase supplies to satisfy all three countries.

SWeden energy use_Denmark stop

It looks as if Sweden’s transport system, along with its economic growth, will slow down during the coming period. And the Government, along with the Swedish Energy Agency, looks to be standing by and letting it happen. With long cold winters and  temperatures going down to -14 C in the south and -40 C in the North one can wonder how they plan to keep people warm and fed without a functioning fossil – fuelled transport system. Even the hydro .electrics and nuclear power plants rely on maintenance vehicles that run on fossil fuel.

Read more (in Swedish)

Daily newspaper reports on energy policy

Government statements on energy policy


Living on biomass only: a thought experiment

Posted by steve on February 19, 2013

Let’s suppose we design a society to live on biomass only. What sources do we have available and how are we going to divide the uses of that biomass to get the most out of it? And if there is a lot of carbon in the atmosphere will we still need to carbon compensate and sequester even if we stop using fossil fuels?

First of all it is only excess biomass we are talking about: food waste, wood not used for building or firewood. And waste not composted. The diagram below shows one feasible scenario.

The top section is for dry waste, the sections below for wet.


Time to form the culture we want – starting with small acts of kindness

Posted by steve on February 10, 2013

This is a translation and adaptation of the leader column I submitted – in my capacity as JAK board member – to JAK’s alternative economy magazine, Grus och Guld. JAK is a member- owned cooperative bank offering interest-free loans.

Like many JAK members I am driven by the desire to change society for the better. Not only to counteract the negative impact of interest on our economy, but the whole system’s negative effects on people. It is sad how money has penetrated our culture so deeply that it is determining the very fundamentals of our way of life. Soon, we won’t be able to “ afford” to be those wonderful, generous, creative, spiritual, loving, appreciative beings that we are in our true nature.

Still, it is not only the monetary system itself that shapes our culture, but the attitudes this money culture carries. It is attitudes not system that mean a farmer can hardly live on producing healthy food while a heart surgeon, who fixes the effects of poor diet, lives in luxury.

As an immigrant to Sweden in the 80’s I see how the hard side of Swedish culture continues to evolve. Despite priding itself on being a socialist nation, they accept domination of state, oligopolies and other strong forces, they accept individuals competing themselves into burn-out and they accept exclusion, even to the extent that people go homeless, toothless and hungry. This development is self-perpetuating. Companies encourage their executives to take risks, cut costs and act on the edge of what is legal in order to achieve profit. This in turn fosters a social psychopathic work ethic that recently had a private old-age care company badly mistreating the old people in their care just to squeeze a few more percentage points.

There are alternatives and possibilities, not least in the Transition movement. Last summer I had the privilege to meet with representatives of alternatives currencies in England. We did a membership count. (It went something like this I don’t remember exact numbers.) Totnes: 2000, Brixton:1000, Bristol: 3000, JAK: 37.000. A silence fell in the room where I can just imagine the thoughts the others were having – what THEY could achieve with 30 000 + members!

Although I do not have money to put into my JAK account, and even if I cannot borrow to put into a community project, there are things I can do, preferably together with other members of JAK. We can get together locally, talk to each other, discuss how we can become creators and bearers of a new, human, Swedish folk culture.

We can do small acts of kindness to our neighbours. And just inviting them for coffee, forming groups that do things together helps create the feeling that as long as we can form trusting relationships with each other there is enough for all – even an abundance – of what we need to live well. And it is just that – good feelings  and good relationships – that form the heart of a healthy culture.

No corporation or government is going to contribute to this development. We must create it ourselves. We can start by looking at the real capital we have in our communities – social, human, natural as well as the infrastructure built by the toil of our forefathers. Respect and trust are absolutely the most solid currencies available. It befalls those of us who recognise what’s going on – and you know if you are one of them – to do what we can to grow this kind of capital. Everything else is just numbers that we were enticed into putting our faith in by those who had the most to gain from perpetuating the illusion.

New eco-village design

Posted by steve on

sketch2This new design (Click on it to see a larger image) is a first sketch for the assignment to design a village layout for a project in Brazil, a village that will house a conference centre in the middle of six sustainable farms. The centre and village will get its food (and coffee) from the neighbouring farms on subscription, and the farm will produce biogas and biochar, combining the char with the organic leftovers from the gas process will produce a soil enhancement that goes back to the farmers.

The design is based on the idea of radiality, from my book “Inventing for the Sustainable Planet”. Radiality is the design approach of living arrangements, villages or even cities, being designed in circular form.

Some things to note:

The technical park houses toilets showers and laundry to separate urine and grey water for use in the market garden. The toilets are between the large meeting place and the central plaza.

We put the parking lot outside the area to make the place car-free, and designed it using the permaculture idea of zones to minimize walking. The areas that people would like to be private are separate from the public areas and to keep noise interference down, farthest from the meeting centre.

The central plaza houses a cafe and restaurant, a place to pick the food up (using the eco- unit concept of food subscription) and a place to hang out. Being in the centre it is  a place for chance meetings and to catch people as they go past.

This is just early stages, but to secure a time-share in the village investments are starting at around 20,000 Euros. Contact me if you are interested in getting in at this early stage!

The V2V fund

Posted by steve on February 6, 2013


A lot of people nowadays long for a different lifestyle – a feeling of being close to nature, being part of a community and having somewhere they can enjoy living with a good, green conscience. But making the change is a huge step for many. You need time to get to know what you are getting into and a house or apartment in the village needs  financing.


We are offering interested individuals the chance, by participating in our fund, to visit the amazing range of projects for longer or shorter stays. At the same time, we are offering financing for village projects.

The idea is simple: just purchase a number of units from us. These units come with points that you can redeem for accommodation at any of our participating villages. With units come exclusive offers to try out the sustainable life-style at excellent prices – all accommodation redeemed with points gives you a guaranteed generous discount. And as the money goes in advance to the villages, you know that your money is helping a good cause already from the get-go.

If you purchase more than 10 units you can use them as points against shares in the village initiative of your choice to become a member and even buy/lease a house. Shares are always offered at a discount to unit holders.


But there is more: we offer village initiatives the chance to get interest-free funding as well as access to a wide network of potentially interested villagers. The income from the sale of units is transferred to participating villages for them to invest in developing their initiative.  Villages get the funding interest-free, and in return offer a discount on accommodation.

The idea is at the concept stage just now, we are looking for villages and individuals to prepare a pilot scheme. Contact us if your are interested.


Interview on putting carbon back in the soil: with Open World Foundation

Posted by steve on December 10, 2012